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Tascam iXZ Mic & Guitar Interface
The iXZ is designed to be more of an all-in-one recording device rather of a simple guitar interface. The main input jack accepts both 1/4" instrument and XLR microphone cables, and the mic pre provides switchable phantom power from two AA batteries for condenser mics that need the juice. If you’re just using the passive setting for guitar or bass you don’t draw any power from the batteries.
Once you fire up your favorite DAW app, plug in your instrument or microphone of choice and connect the iXZ's stereo cable to the Apple device's headphone jack, you just flip the front switch to either mic or instrument and let 'er rip. Since the iXZ transmits signal through the headphone jack's internal microphone ring (which is reserved for external hands-free mics), it's compatible with pretty much any recording and instrument app out there. Tascam recommends using their free PCM Recorder app, or their four-track Portastudio app for iPad users.
Using a Stratocaster with both PCM Recorder and GarageBand, the iXZ recorded without latency issues, though there was some background noise that required me to work with the app's noise gate. The mic pre handled close mic’ing of a Fender Twin Reverb with an SM57 without excessive clipping, and considering that the interface costs only $30, the clear recorded tones that it captured far exceeded my expectations. The pre is certainly no substitute for desktop models made by Focusrite or Presonus, but it runs circles around Apple's internal mics, which tend to distort and muddy up easily.
Traveler Guitar MI-10 Mobile Interface for Guitar/Bass
Traveler’s MI-10 min interface is the most austere out of this bunch. It connects through an Apple device’s headphone jack, and pumps your guitar’s signal to the jack’s microphone in ring, which is then processed by the app of your choosing. And at a little over half the size of a Snickers bar, you can pocket it easily for quick and on-the-go jamming. The build quality feels just a bit flimsy, so I’d recommend against tossing it in with your pedals and cables. It sports an 1/8" headphone jack, along with a ¼" output for routing the app-processed tone to an amplifier or mixing console.
Despite the lack of bells and whistles, the MI-10 does send a very clean signal from a guitar or bass. The signal from my Stratocaster tracked into GarageBand without loss, and the interface’s ¼" output made routing effect processing apps such as Moog’s killer Filtatron app to an amp simple.
The biggest gripe that I have with the MI-10 is that there’s no way to adjust the input gain coming from the guitar, unless the app that you’re using has its own input gain level control. Luckily, I was able to set the levels in GarageBand, and FourTrack to keep signal clipping in check. Still, a simple thumbwheel or small pot for gain adjustment would have felt more natural to use than correcting levels from the apps themselves. But when you take into consideration its price, the MI-10 really is a solid choice for players who just want a simple and inexpensive way to record their guitars to their iOS devices.
Griffin StompBox Foot Switch Controller
Griffin’s StompBox foot controller is an ambitious concept that’s aimed at making your iOS device a gig-able rig on its own. The sturdy and rugged pedal sports four footswitches that can be programmed for bypassing or engaging effects and amps in Frontier Design Group’s iShred app. On top of that, there’s a ¼" jack on its backside for plugging in an expression pedal to control effects like wahs in real-time. It uses a 30-pin connector attached to a thick, three-foot long cable to connect directly to the Apple device’s docking port, and receives your guitar’s signal via an included Guitar Connect cable that plugs into the headphone jack. The StompBox does, however, suffer from a frustrating lack of a USB-through jack to charge the iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad that it’s connected to.
With a Les Paul running into my iPad 2 with Griffin’s Guitar Connect cable, I fired up the iShred app and began building a rig. Using the StompBox to bypass and engage individual effects was extremely easy and the low-latency connection provided by the 30-pin connection meant the effects kicked on just as instantaneously as they would with regular outboard stompboxes.
I absolutely love the concept of the StompBox—especially now that amp and effect modeling on Apple devices is really starting to develop and sound impressive. And while Griffin’s iShred app is capable of generating some cool tones, it’s unfortunately the only guitar app out there (along with Positive Grid’s JamUp XT app) that the StompBox will work with. And it’s a shame too, because almost everything about the StompBox—right down to it’s tank-like construction, low-latency connection and budget-friendly price—are things that could make it a serious contender for iPhone, iPod and iPad-clutching musicians everywhere. Its incompatibility with other apps, however, really stifles its potential—at least for now.